Wednesday, February 28, 2018

2018 IndyCar Team Preview: Dale Coyne Racing

We have reached the final IndyCar team preview and it will look at the team that took a stunning victory in the 2017 season opener, Dale Coyne Racing. Last season saw the team reach its highest level and then had it all crash down. What could have been a historic season was lost and now the team heads to 2018 hoping to prove the success of last spring was not a fluke. The team will have to do it with a pair of rookies splitting a car beside the team's modern IndyCar legend.

2017 Dale Coyne Racing Review:
Wins: 1 (St. Petersburg)
Poles: 0
Best Starting Position: 5th (Texas, Vautier)
Final Championship Positions: 14th (Ed Jones), 21st (Sébastien Bourdais), 25th (Esteban Gutiérrez), 30th (Pippa Mann), 35th (James Davison), 36th (Tristan Vautier).

2018 Drivers:

Sébastien Bourdais - #18 SealMasters Honda
The phrase putting the band back together was used quite frequently prior to the start of the 2017 IndyCar season with Dale Coyne Racing. Bourdais returned to Dale Coyne Racing but not only did he return to an old team, he was reunited with engineer Craig Hampson and chief mechanic Todd Phillips from his championship winning days at Newman-Haas Racing and race engineer Olivier Boisson followed Bourdais to Coyne from the ashes of KV Racing.

Unfortunately, an off in qualifying put Bourdais 21st out of 21 cars on the grid for St. Petersburg. In the race, Bourdais was up nine positions by the end of lap seven and was 11th at the time of his first pit stop. Three laps later a caution was out and only one car ahead of Bourdais had made a pit stop. He was second at the time of the lap 30 restart and spent seven laps behind Simon Pagenaud before he took the lead on lap 37. Bourdais would lead 69 of the final 74 laps and win by over ten seconds on the track. For the first time in IndyCar history, Dale Coyne Racing led the championship.

Things improve in race two as he started 12th but he had to make a pit stop immediately under the first caution of the race on lap two, restarting in 20th position, last on the road. While other cars made pit stops, Bourdais clawed his way to fifth by the time of his second pit stop and only dropped to tenth, finding himself in a better position than when he started. Each stint he gain a few positions and the unfortunate engine failures to Andretti Autosport drivers put Bourdais in position for a podium. He would find himself in podium contention and come home in second.

Bourdais had another solid day at Barber, starting 12th and finishing eighth, retaining the championship lead. The fairy tale ended in turn one on lap one at Phoenix and the championship lead was gone. A sixth place start in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis did not last long as Bourdais lost an engine after three laps.

Everything looked good in Indianapolis 500 qualifying. Bourdais was the fastest man out there and for a split second it appear Dale Coyne Racing was going to be the team to beat in the Indianapolis 500. In the next split second, Bourdais lost the rear in turn two, overcorrected and slammed into the barrier, shattering his pelvis and crushing the feel good story like a grape.

Initially, his season was ruled as over but Bourdais fought his way back and was back in the seat for Gateway. He finished 10th on his return and had another good run going at Watkins Glen until he had nowhere to good when Josef Newgarden slid into the pit exit wall. The Frenchman closed out the season in ninth place at Sonoma.

Numbers to Remember:
2: Career victories at Portland. He is one behind Michael Andretti and Al Unser, Jr., for most at the track. Bourdais is the only active driver to win at Portland in IndyCar.

5: Most top five finishes in a season for Bourdais since he returned to IndyCar competition in 2011. That occurred in 2014.

10.4: Average number of top five finishes for Bourdais from 2003-07.

26.75: Points per start for Bourdais in 2017, ninth-best among drivers to make more than six starts last season.

I did not think Bourdais could have held the form of the first three races through the final 14 races and been a championship contender at Sonoma. He still put up impressive numbers and I think a top ten championship finish would not have been out of the question. It is Sébastien Bourdais, the man who finished ninth in a Lotus. He is going to challenge for a top ten championship finish. Bourdais wins races and he has been able to do it despite being in less than ideal situations in his second stint in IndyCar.

Dale Coyne Racing did well in the first portion of the DW12-era. Justin Wilson finished sixth in the championship in 2013 and I would not be surprised if Bourdais could match that championship result. Bourdais will need to pick up more podium finishes and more top five finishes to make that happen. His qualifying performances have not been close to what he did in Champ Car and his best average starting position in IndyCar since 2011 was 9.9 in 2014 and 2015. Ironically, after none of his first 33 victories came from outside the top ten his last three victories have come from 11th, 13th and 21st respectively. Better qualifying should lead to better race results.

Zachary Claman De Melo - #19 Paysafe Honda
The French-Canadian returned for a sophomore season of Indy Lights but moved from Juncos Racing to Carlin. His sophomore season started better than his rookie season, as De Melo finished eighth, seventh and fifth in the first three races of the season at St. Petersburg and Barber. Unfortunately, the first bad break of the season came in the second Barber race after contact with Patricio O'Ward forced him to retire after three laps.

The first race of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend saw De Melo challenge Nico Jamin for the victory but sudden for his first career Indy Lights podium finish with De Melo finishing second. The next race would be an 11th place finish but he would pick up fastest lap. He was mid-pack in the Freedom 100 and finished 6th. He could only manage a tenth place finish in the first race from Road America after starting 14th, dead last on the grid. The second race from Elkhart Lake had De Melo start fourth and he would take the lead on lap five and cruise to his first career Indy Lights victory.

De Melo started second at Iowa but finished second. He followed it up with a pair of podium finishes at Toronto. He picked up another pair of top five finishes at Mid-Ohio and ended the season with two consecutive sixth-place finishes at Gateway and Watkins Glen and finished fifth in the championship, five points behind his Carlin teammate Matheus Leist.

The results earned De Melo a ride with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the Sonoma season finale and he started 21st out of 22nd but finished 17th, one lap down.

Numbers to Remember:
4: De Melo would be the fourth Canadian to race for Dale Coyne Racing joining Ross Bentley, Paul Tracy and Michael Valiante.

11: Best finish for a Canadian driver for Dale Coyne Racing. Bentley finished 11th at Surfers Paradise in 1992 and Valiante finished 11th at Portland in 2005, his only start at Dale Coyne Racing and his final IndyCar start.

20: Lead lap finishes for De Melo in his last 21 Indy Lights starts including 12 consecutive to end the 2017 season.

De Melo is a good driver but in two years of Indy Lights he never entered the weekend as the man to beat. He got solid results and kept all four wheels on the car, which is very appealing to Dale Coyne Racing, which suffered a rough 2017 season in terms of crash damage. De Melo's schedule consists of St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Barber, Belle Isle, Road America, Iowa, Toronto, Pocono and Gateway. He has done well at Barber, Road America and Toronto. Long Beach, Belle Isle and Pocono will be new to him. It is tough to gauge how he is on ovals. While he wasn't impressive in 2016 he did finish sixth in all three ovals in Indy Lights last year.

With the 2018 rookie class being splintered between full-timers, significant part-timers and drivers with a handful of racers, I think De Melo would be best comparing him to Jordan King, who will run 11 races while De Melo runs 10 races. It will be interesting to see how he compares to his former Carlin teammate Leist as both move up and De Melo is arguably with the better team.

Pietro Fittipaldi - #19 Paysafe Honda
The grandson of double World Drivers' Champion, double Indianapolis 500 winner and 1989 IndyCar champion Emerson Fittipaldi has been all over the world and won everywhere he has gone. The unlikely starting point for Fittipaldi was Hickory Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series and he won that champion at 15 years old.

After two years in late models, Fittipaldi headed to Europe and switched to single-seater racing. He finished eighth and 15th in the Protyre Formula Renault Championship and BRDC Formula 4 Championship respectively and he won a Formula 4 race at Brands Hatch on the grand prix circuit. The following year he won the Protyre Formula Renault Championship where he won 10 of 15 races. He moved to European Formula Three in 2015 and finished 16th in the championship with his best finish being a pair of sixths at Algarve. That winter he raced the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship and finished in the top five in all 14 races with four victories, three runner-up finishes and a pair of third being enough to take the championship.

In 2016, he moved to the Formula V8 3.5 Series but he finished tenth in the championship with his best finish being third in the final race of the season at Barcelona. He returned to the series in 2017 and opened the season with a sweep of the Silverstone weekend. Fittipaldi won six races and finished on the podium ten times in 18 races and he won ten pole positions on his way to take the Formula V8 3.5 championship.

Numbers to Remember:
5,593: Days between the last time a Fittipaldi started an IndyCar race (Christian Fittipaldi at Mexico City in 2002) and the 2018 season opener at St. Petersburg.

0: IndyCar victories for Florida-born drivers. Fittipaldi was born in Miami, Florida.

6: Racetracks on the 2018 IndyCar calendar where a Fittipaldi has won (Phoenix, Indianapolis, Road America, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Portland)

This signing surprised most. I joked back when Fittipaldi won the Formula V8 3.5 title that he was apart of a championship weekend in Bahrain that included a Senna and a Lauda also taking titles with Bruno Senna winning in the FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 class and Mattias Lauda winning in GTE-Am. It is interesting seeing him come to North America. The Formula V8 3.5 Series was a fraction of what it was when it was Formula Renault 3.5 and was turning out drivers Robert Kubica, Sebastian Vettel, Álvaro Parente, Filipe Albuquerque, Bertrand Baguette, Mikhail Aleshin, Daniel Ricciardo, Robert Wickens, Alexander Rossi, Jean-Éric Vergne, Robin Frijns, Jules Bianchi, Kevin Magnussen, Carlos Sainz, Jr., Stoffel Vandoorne and Pierre Gasly. Fittipaldi could have a slight advantage if the Dallara chassis used in Formula V8 3.5 translates to IndyCar and is something he is comfortable with.

Fittipaldi will run seven races, Phoenix, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis 500, Texas, Mid-Ohio, Portland and Sonoma. While Fittipaldi has oval experience it is a big leap to go from last running a late model at Hickory Motor Speedway to an IndyCar at Phoenix and Indianapolis in two of his first three IndyCar starts. I am more interested in seeing how De Melo and Fittipaldi compare on road courses. I think Fittipaldi might do slightly better coming from Europe. Another thing to note about Fittipaldi is he, like De Melo, does not have a tendency of tearing up equipment. In his two seasons in Formula V8 3.5, Fittipaldi had only four retirements in 36 starts.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 11th at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: February 2018

I am going to try something new this month.

Every week there are at least three or four headlines I see and I have an immediate reaction to. After all, that is what a headline is supposed to do. But I don't always read the article. Sometimes a headline has said enough and I have to respond to it. Instead of keeping those observation internal I have decided to collect those headlines over the course of a month and at the end of each month create a compilation of the best (or worse) of the month. 

Before I start let me reiterate all these responses are just off the headline. My gut reaction and the questions or gripes I have might be answer in the article, which I did not read prior to writing my response. 

Let's see how this go and let's start with an IndyCar headline I saw last week. 

Really? Now? Now is when getting results is all that matter? Really Marco? 

You have been in IndyCar for over ten years. This makes sense if you were in year three or four and had to learn circuits and a new car and gain your footing in the series. This season marks your 13th in IndyCar. Most of these circuits you know and yes there will be a new aero kit but between the original Dallara, the initial DW12 and the Honda aero kit you have plenty experience with different Indy cars that the universal aero kit shouldn't be a big deal. Add on top of that Indy Lights experience, A1GP and a smidge of sports car experience and you are a veteran race car driver. Results should have been the only think that mattered ten years ago. 

To be fair to Marco Andretti, because everyone loves picking on him and I think he is a good guy, I think I can understand where he is coming from and there is more to life than racing. You can be the most successful race car driver in the world and still be the most miserable person. Winning only solves so much and the professional success does not matter if you are not happy in you personal life. Andretti was recently married and if he has reached a point in his life where off-track he is happy and personal anxieties have been ease and it can allow him to focus more as a driver than good for him. I am happy he has reached that point. Sometimes the things away from the racetrack matter more than the things that do and can dictate your success.

Let's try another IndyCar headline.

Give it time Matheus, give it time. Foyt finds a way for it all to go wrong. Remember how bright a start Takuma Sato had? He led the championship entering the Indianapolis 500 in 2013. How did that turn out? Jack Hawksworth even had a good start with the team. Where is he again? And did you not see what happened to Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly even though they both ended on a high note? 

Tell how things are going after St. Petersburg and then after Long Beach and then after Indianapolis and then let us know how things are when we reach Sonoma. The season is longer than two tests and this won't be like BRDC British Formula Three or Indy Lights. How will things be when you aren't lighting the world on fire? 

Let's more to Formula One...

I will give credit for this headline as it puts quote around young driver. 

How the hell are you appointed as a young driver? Was Felipe Massa appointed the team's "grizzled veteran" in 2018? If Williams finds a 16-year-old Formula Four driver and "signs" him or her to a development deal are they now the "young driver?" What would that make Rowland, the "medium driver?" The "properly aged driver?" 

How old can a "young driver" be? Oliver Rowland is 25 years old. He is older than both of Williams F1's race drivers for 2018 and not by a few months. He has over three years on Sergey Sirotkin. So if Rowland is the "young driver" are Lance Stroll and Sirotkin not young drivers despite being younger than Rowland? 

Are Formula One teams running out of superlatives for drivers that aren't race drivers? We have had test drivers, development drivers, simulator drivers, affiliated drivers, academy drivers and now "young driver." What is next? Soon each team will have a driver for different nationalities. Somebody will become Force India's official "British driver" and Sauber will have the official "Scandinavian driver." Teams will do anything for a paycheck even if it is for a driver to stand at the back of the garage wearing a polo shirt and a headset. 

Let's go to Russia for the next headline. 

Wow. What do they have in mind? After all, it is not like the track has a long front straightaway and a long back straightaway and two DRS zones... oh wait... Sochi has all those things... and it still needs to evaluate changes to the track to boost overtaking? Terrific.

Sochi might not be my cup a tea and if the racetrack were to fall off the schedule and be completely abandoned I wouldn't shed a tear over it but what else is the pseudo-street course going to do to make it better for Formula One cars to overtake? It has nothing to do with the circuit but the downforce levels of the cars. Formula One isn't addressing that. We haven't seen a big chunk of downforce taken away from the cars. If anything, Formula One should mandate the DRS flap remain open for the entire lap at these circuits and then we might see some racing. Drivers would be braking earlier than they ever imagined. You would have wide-eyed drivers pushing the limits and taking risks up the inside of a fellow competitor. Some would get it wrong and blow the corner but there is six miles of run over in every corner so they would get to continue on but would likely not only have failed to complete the pass initiated but have lost a position or two for running so wide. 

That is the change that needs to be made in Formula One to increase overtaking. 

Let's try a NASCAR headline.

Mailbag: Should NASCAR regulate celebratory burnouts?
That is what NASCAR needs, more rules on things that don't matter. I understand drivers could manipulate a burnout to cover up for something illegal. The last thing NASCAR needs is to do another unpopular thing and make the series appear more constricting. How did NFL do when it came to regulating touchdown celebrations? Fans loved that. No, no they didn't.

I know it is a mailbag and writers answering questions from fans but let's use common sense. If NASCAR regulated burnouts it would only lead to more people being pissed off and more fans tuning out. NASCAR doesn't need that.

Finally, we will end with Formula E.

New Formula E car capable of more than 300km/h
Where? What circuit on the Formula E schedule is a car going to break 186 MPH? Let's get the new car produced and just completing test laps without breaking down every five minutes and then we can worry about top speed and if the car can't reach top speed at any of the circuits than what the hell is the point of promoting the cars possibilities?

Those were six headlines. Let me know what you think about this concept and I will make adjustments when it comes time to do it in March.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Reunification: Ten Years Later

The Winter Olympics came to an end. The World Superbike season started and no British riders won a race! Kevin Harvick whooped the field in two races at Atlanta, Cup and Grand National Series. Kyle Busch had a loose wheel cost him a surefire Truck victory. Busch's misfortune opened the door for a surprise winner. Formula One teams are unveiling and testing cars. Courtney Force is bringing home the bacon for Graham Rahal. Road to Indy series were testing at Homestead and the entry lists were a little disappointing (looking at you Indy Lights). Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Reunification: Ten Years Later
February 26, 2008 isn't one of those days where I can recall exact where I was when I heard the news. All I can say is I was happy at the time. After 12 years of spiraling down the drain, American open-wheel racing finally came out the other side a long way from the mountaintop it once occupied.

Everything was rushed but I didn't care. There was one IndyCar although someone should have taken a breath and thought this out a little better. Champ Car was gone. It was broke. Everyone was abandoning ship and the Indy Racing League was the only ship responding to the S.O.S. but there were conditions to boarding. Gone were the mostly beloved Panoz DP01 chassis along with the turbocharged V8 engines after one beautiful year. It was either take on the Dallara and the Honda or drown and some decided to sleep with the fishes (Goodbye Forsythe).

It wasn't just teams and drivers that faced uncertainty. The schedule was shaken and historical American open-wheel landmarks vanished in the blink of an eye. The only races that transitioned immediately to the unified IndyCar schedule were Long Beach, Edmonton and Surfers Paradise, though Long Beach would only be Champ Car teams as IRL teams had to race in Motegi and the trip to Australia would be a non-championship round. It ended up being the final trip to Australia. Toronto returned after a one-year hiatus but others had a longer wait. Road America was off the IndyCar schedule for eight years. Houston was gone for five years and that was one of tracks few wanted back. Laguna Seca was slated to return to the Champ Car schedule in 2008 but that didn't happen and IndyCar has not been close to returning. Cleveland has not returned to the schedule and likely will not be back. Portland is back on the IndyCar schedule for the first time since 2007. Mexico City was on the cusp of returning in 2018 but it appears that will have to wait until at least 2019.

The sacrifices did come with a few pluses. Bumping returned to the Indianapolis 500 and not the one-car, A.J. Foyt sticking it to Arie Luyendyk's son type of bumping but multiple teams scraping to make the field of 33 with the few back markers off the pace and needing a dozen prayers to come within a half a mile per hour of making it. There was the heartbreak that has a place in sports. It is painful but it is necessary and why we watch, to see one's dreams come true while another is left shattered and must pick up the pieces from failures.

Looking back on that first season after reunification, it was quite a doozy. Did you know Marco Andretti led the most laps in that first race at Homestead? And Tony Kanaan had a victory knocked out of his hands when a damaged Ernesto Viso (before he switched to E.J.) made contact with the leader with less than ten laps to go. Scott Dixon won the race and it set the tone for the season. The next race saw Graham Rahal pick up his first career victory in a wet St. Petersburg. The next race weekend was the odd Motegi-Long Beach split, which is remembered for Danica Patrick's first career victory at Motegi. Will Power would win in the Panoz DP01 at Long Beach hours later.

While Scott Dixon won six races, Hélio Castroneves provided a strong championship fight despite only winning twice. The Brazilian ended the season with nine podium finishes in the final 11 races. It even included a season finale where Castroneves, already with his back to the wall in the championship battle, had to start 28th, dead last on the grid and he charged to the front. Castroneves needed Dixon to put a foot wrong, which didn't happen but it provided a great battle in the closing laps of the season between two top drivers at the end. It ended with a bit of... I don't want to call it a controversy, because it was clear who crossed the line first. It ended with timing and scoring incorrectly registering Dixon as the first driver to cross the line despite every angle showing Castroneves clearly got to the line first. What could have been another embarrassing moment for the IRL and what could have been a drawn-out affair over the obvious was quickly handed and Castroneves was rightfully declared the winner.

The 2008 season had a few other highlights. Dan Wheldon won on his birthday at Iowa and proceeded to donate his winnings to relief efforts for flooding that had occurred in the area. It was Wheldon's penultimate IndyCar victory. Ryan Hunter-Reay took a surprise victory at Watkins Glen over a surprise runner-up in Darren Manning after Dixon and Ryan Briscoe got together under caution. Justin Wilson scored Newman-Haas Racing's final victory at Belle Isle after Castroneves was rightfully penalized for blocking.

Looking back on the day IndyCar became one series again, had you told me then what IndyCar would look like in 2018 I would have to say I would be disappointed about where IndyCar would be ten years after reunification. In 2008, I had big dreams for IndyCar now that it was one series. I wanted multiple chassis manufactures and more than two engine manufactures. I would have been disappointed in the fluctuation in teams and how the Indianapolis 500 had once again returned to a no-bumping affair. The idea to complete flip the Indianapolis 500 qualifying schedule and have pole position decided on the final qualifying day would have been asinine and I would have been furious that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course hosted a race while the likes of Cleveland, Laguna Seca, Fontana and Michigan were not on the schedule.

However, look at what the past decade has been for IndyCar. It hasn't been pretty. Ten years of one series and IndyCar is barely any closer to where it was in 1995. NASCAR continues to rule the American motorsports kingdom and it is doing it despite shedding millions of fans and millions in sponsorship dollars along the way. We have had multiple fly-away races fall a part despite guarantees of an international series to start the season. But IndyCar has found its footing. The racing has been quite exciting with one chassis manufacture and mostly two engine manufactures. The numbers aren't great and they are getting better, although not making significant strides. Teams are hamstrung for sponsors but a few more teams have entered the series in the last two years after teams vanished quite rapidly at the start of the DW12-era. There is even hopes of a third manufacture in the near future.

Since reunification, we had Dario Franchitti, Sébastien Bourdais and Juan Pablo Montoya return to full-time IndyCar competition, Rubens Barrichello ran a full season of IndyCar, A.J. Allmendinger returned to IndyCar and made his Indianapolis 500 debut, Kurt Busch did the Double and Fernando Alonso took a sabbatical and missed the Monaco Grand Prix to run the Indianapolis 500. The six Indianapolis 500s in the DW12-era are the top six Indianapolis 500s in term of lead changes. The record for most lead changes in an IndyCar race was broken at Fontana. Iowa emerged as an IndyCar staple and Gateway came out of nowhere last year and put on a great event. There have been thrilling street course races at Long Beach, São Paulo and even Belle Isle has had a few stellar races.

Since reunification we have seen a changing tide and more Americans full-time in IndyCar. Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi were two kids in 2008 and both were American Formula One hopes. Now they are an IndyCar champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner respectively and two drivers who appear will be in IndyCar for years to come. Ryan Hunter-Reay found a stable gig after years of constantly being on the move. Graham Rahal is a frequent race winner and has been in the championship discussion. On top of that, the ladder system is working. Spencer Pigot and Zach Veach have been able to work their ways from U.S. F2000 to IndyCar and Gabby Chaves went from Pro Mazda to the top level. Newgarden, Ed Jones and Kyle Kasier are all Indy Lights champions set for IndyCar competition in 2018. Besides those three, Jack Harvey and Matheus Leist are Indy Lights race winners in the top series.

IndyCar isn't perfect. It is still difficult for talented drivers to get rides and there are many on the sidelines who should be in IndyCar (Sage Karam, Matthew Brabham, Carlos Muñoz should be more than one-off drivers and Scott Hargrove, 2013 U.S. F2000 champion and who went toe-to-toe with Pigot in Pro Mazda, has moved to sports car racing). The schedule has its holes and there is room for a few more ovals. On top of all that the series is fighting up hill to grow and have a healthy television audience as well as 17 well-attended race weekends but IndyCar is in a better position than it was ten years ago.

Reunification might not have been a moment where IndyCar soared from the fire of the CART/IRL-war back to the pinnacle of world motorsports with everyone taking notice. It is still a forgotten series, behind NASCAR domestically and a niche motorsports series internationally. More has to be done but there is a comforting feeling around IndyCar. Ten years ago, it felt every positive IndyCar story was suffocated out because of nine negative IndyCar stories. Positivity shines through more today. It isn't a headache to follow IndyCar and nor does something infuriatingly stupid come out of IndyCar on a regular basis.

It could be a combination of myself maturing and learning to not sweat the things out of my control but ten years on and after many missteps during that time I believe IndyCar has also matured as North America's premier open-wheel series.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kevin Harvick but did you know...

Brett Moffitt won the NASCAR Truck race on Saturday night, his second career Truck victory.

Marco Melandri swept the World Superbike races from Phillip Island. Lucas Mahias won the World Supersport race.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Tampa, his second consecutive victory and fourth of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR will be in Las Vegas.
Supercars opens the 2018 season at Adelaide.
Supercross heads to Atlanta.
Formula E returns to Mexico City.

Friday, February 23, 2018

2018 IndyCar Team Preview: Ed Carpenter Racing

We have broken into the double figures and the tenth IndyCar team preview will be the final Chevrolet team, Ed Carpenter Racing. Year two of the post-Josef Newgarden-era will see another new full-time driver in the #21 Chevrolet but once again it will be a familiar face. Meanwhile, the #20 Chevrolet will continue to be shared and owner-driver Ed Carpenter has brought a man from across the pond under his roof.

2017 Ed Carpenter Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Iowa, Hildebrand)
Poles: 0
Best Starting Position: 2nd (Indianapolis 500, Carpenter and Iowa, Hildebrand)
Final Championship Positions: 15th (J.R. Hildebrand), 20th (Spencer Pigot), 22nd (Ed Carpenter).

2018 Drivers:

Ed Carpenter - #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet
After coming off a difficult 2016 season where he retired from four of five races and did not have a finish on the lead lap. His season started on the back foot, 21st out of 21 cars at Phoenix but with five cars taken out before completing turn one, Carpenter had some help up the order. He finished two laps down but came home in seventh position, his first top ten finished since Iowa in 2015. Carpenter had another front row starting position for the Indianapolis 500 but the speed did not hold up in the race and a broken front wing was another set back on his way to an 11th place finish.

Carpenter was caught out in the lap 152 accident at Texas and the crew got the car repaired so he could get back out on track and complete enough laps to secure a second consecutive 11th place finish. He started directly behind his teammate J.R. Hildebrand at Iowa in fourth and was in the top ten most of the race but fell back in the final third and finished 12th. Pocono was a difficult day and he finished 12th again and Gateway, and his season, ended after five laps when he had nowhere to go when Will Power spun exiting turn two.

Numbers to Remember:
3.333: Average number of retirements per season for Carpenter during the aero kit-era (2015-17).

5.667: Average number of starts per season for Carpenter during the aero kit-era.

7: Laps led during the aero kit-era.

240: Laps led from 2012-14.

I don't know what to say about Ed Carpenter anymore. He runs six races. What is a good season when you only run six races? Is six finishes between seventh and tenth a good season? Is one victory, not at Indianapolis, and five retirements due to hard accidents a good season? Obviously, he doesn't want to have five accidents and tear up a lot of race cars but his championship finish is irrelevant and I doubt he cares where he finishes in the oval points because it is irrelevant. If IndyCar gave some money away for top honors in each discipline then maybe Carpenter would care.

Carpenter didn't have a top five finish in the aero kit-era. He had three top tens in 17 starts. I bet he wants to do better than that and it is approaching four years since his most recent victory. Getting back to the top step of the podium is the only goal.

Jordan King - #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet
Ed Carpenter Racing has found another Brit to jump in the #20 Chevrolet for road and street courses and King comes over from Formula Two. The 23-year-old Briton was Alexander Rossi's teammate at Racing Engineering in the 2015 GP2 Series season. Rossi finished second in the championship, scoring 181.5 points and picking up three victories while King scored 60 points in a three-way tie for tenth but dropping to King to 12th in the final championship standings based on tiebreaker. His best finish in 2015 was second in the sprint race at Spa-Francorchamps, right behind Rossi.

King returned to Racing Engineering for the 2016 season and he won two races, both were sprint races at Red Bull Ring and Silverstone. He picked up three other podium finishes that season and improved his championship finish to seventh on 122 points but for the second consecutive season he finished behind his teammate in the championship as Norman Nato finished fifth with 136 points despite having two victories and five podium finishes just like King. King was also a Manor F1 development driver for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The 2017 Formula Two season saw King move to MP Motorsport and the season started with 10 finishes in the points in the first 11 races, however the strong start could not translate in the championship. King never stood on the podium and dropped to 11th in the championship on 62 points.

Numbers to Remember:
8: Retirements in three GP2/Formula Two seasons.

36: Finishes in the points in 65 GP2/Formula Two starts

1,630: Days between King's most recent pole position (September 22, 2013 at the Nürburgring in British Formula Three) and the qualifying session for the St. Petersburg season opener.

Same with Carpenter, I don't know what to expect from the road and street course driver and in this case King. What does ECR expect? Obviously 11 top ten finishes would be great but when Mike Conway had two victories in 2014 and those were his only top ten finishes in 12 starts that was passed off as a successful season but he finished ten points behind Carpenter that season and yes, Carpenter had three double points races but the most points Carpenter could have scored was 515 points while Conway had 648 points on the table. Carpenter scored just over 50% of his maximum total points while Conway scored 38.88% of his maximum total points.

King will be a rookie and he has an eye on becoming a full-time IndyCar driver. ECR (with some help of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) raised Josef Newgarden to be one of the top drivers in IndyCar and raised Spencer Pigot to a full-time driver. King is in a good place. He is in a diverse rookie class that includes drivers from Indy Lights, a driver he outperformed in GP2 and a DTM driver returning to single-seaters for the first time in seven years. With the new aero kit I am not sure he will be as out of water as he would have been if he had entered a year earlier. King did not tear up much equipment and was reasonable competitive. His goal should be to be on the heel of his teammate, especially if Pigot takes another step forward.

Spencer Pigot - #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
The California-born driver returned to Ed Carpenter Racing in 2017 and once again was in the #20 Chevrolet for the road and street course races. Unfortunately for Pigot, a promising season opener ended when his brakes blew to pieces when entering his pit box for the first pit stop of the day. A two-stop strategy paid off at Long Beach and he finished eighth but a promising run at Barber ended up when spun on his own exiting turn five while running in eighth position. A top ten finish was nearly ruined when Pigot stalled during his first pit stop during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but he worked his way from 15th to ninth. Pigot moved to Juncos Racing for the Indianapolis 500 but he was off pace all race and finished six laps down in 18th.

He started the Belle Isle weekend with a tenth place finish in race one but ended it with a colossal engine failure in race two. He finished 12th at Road America and made a few incredible passes on the likes of Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay to get into the top ten but contact with Takuma Sato sent him to the back he finished 18th. He suffered a hard accident in warm-up for the Mid-Ohio race and finished 19th. Things appeared to be falling his way at Watkins Glen and his pit strategy had him leading the race and in position for a top five finish but Pigot could not make the fuel strategy work and dropped to 12th. He overcame an early pit stop to finish 13th at Sonoma, the first car one lap down.

Numbers to Remember:
0: Retirements in 22 starts due to an accident. All three of his retirements have been because of mechanical issues.

3.5: Pigot's average starting position improved by 3.5 positions from 20.6 in 2016 to 17.1 in 2017.

11: Pigot has finished 11 races on the lead lap and 11 races at least one lap down.

Pigot's best days in 2017 were not his best results. He rolled the dice at Toronto and made passes stick in places where most veterans wouldn't take the gamble. He seemed to be gaining confidence each lap at Barber before he stepped it a smidge over the edge. Not all his races were wasted results. He turned around a lost day at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and he held his own in races where it would have been easy to get down in the race car and fall down the running order.

The one thing we have yet to see from Pigot is that stand out day. We have come close to it but we have not seen a full race yet. We have see great halves and quarters and thirds of races but a great start to finish is what we are looking for. This is another step up for Pigot and he is the guy now. He is the number one driver and gets to do all the testing and lead the way. There are two things I think Pigot has to do and that is make it to the second round of qualifying on a road/street circuit and get a top five finish, neither he has done in his career.

This will be the third season Pigot has participated in but he is still learning, as this is his first full season and his only two oval starts have both been Indianapolis 500s. He has never raced Phoenix, Texas, Pocono or Gateway and he hasn't been to Iowa since 2015. The good news is he is with one of the right teams when it comes to ovals. I think he improves and accomplishes many of the little things he needs to before he can start fighting for race victories. He will be pushing for the top 12 in the championship.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 11th at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

2018 IndyCar Team Preview: Team Penske

Though we are not saving the best for last, we are getting into the final IndyCar team previews and it is time to look at the defending champions Team Penske. The team is coming off a highly successful season. It was the only Chevrolet team to win in 2017 with the team picking up ten victories, including five consecutive races, the first team to win five consecutive races since 2005. The team is downsizing but is still holding onto to three drivers that were responsible for nine of the team's 10 victories last year and all three finished in the top five of the championship.

2017 Team Penske Review:
Wins: 10 (Barber, Phoenix, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa, Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Pocono, Gateway, Sonoma)
Poles: 11 (St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Barber, Phoenix, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Road America, Iowa, Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Gateway, Sonoma.)
Final Championship Positions: 1st (Josef Newgarden), 2nd (Simon Pagenaud), 4th (Hélio Castroneves), 5th (Will Power), 24th (Juan Pablo Montoya).

2018 Drivers:

Josef Newgarden - #1 Hum by Verizon/Fitzgerald Glider Kits/PPG/DeVilbiss Chevrolet
IndyCar's great hope made his long awaited Penske debut at St. Petersburg and while being more of a victim than a benefactor from the caution that put Sébastien Bourdais in position to dominate, Newgarden still finished eighth. Race two saw Newgarden as the top Penske driver with a third place finish. He had a solid day going at Barber and while a podium was in his hand, the unfortunate tire issues for his teammate Will Power allowed Newgarden to inherit the lead and he held off Scott Dixon to pick up his first victory for Team Penske in his third start with the team. He had a bit of a trap race at Phoenix with a few brushes with the wall dropping him to ninth at the one-mile oval.

Indianapolis did not go his way. A top ten in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis was spoiled when multiple pit lane speeding penalties dropped him down the order. He had a hard accident in Indianapolis 500 practice and never found the speed to be competitive in the race and an accident would end his day. The Indianapolis slump was cleaned up in Detroit with a fourth and a second. Newgarden was wide-eyed in his return to Texas and while he showed pace to contend for the victory, an ambitious move exiting turn four led to a reunion with the wall. He didn't have a broken collarbone and hand at Road America and he was the top Penske driver for most of the day and finished second.

A sixth place finish at Iowa was followed with two consecutive victories at Toronto and Mid-Ohio. A timely pit stop and slower traffic were in his favor in Canada and he had a dominant drive in the Buckeye State. Newgarden had a wishy-washy day in Pocono but in the end he was on Power's rear and challenging for a third consecutive victory only to come home in second. With the championship in his sight, Newgarden didn't settle for second at Gateway and moved Simon Pagenaud for his fourth victory of the season. Watkins Glen ended with a collision with the wall exiting the pit lane and cost him a chunk of points. The tension did not get to his head at Sonoma and he won his first pole position of the season. Knowing what he had to do, Newgarden cruised to a second place finish and the Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Numbers to Remember:
1.6667: Average number of victories in a season for drivers using the #1 since reunification.

2: Most victories in a season for a driver using #1 since reunification (Ryan Hunter-Reay 2013, Simon Pagenaud 2017).

26: Newgarden was 26 years old when he won the championship. He became the first driver to win the championship in his 20s since Scott Dixon in 2008. He was the youngest champion since Sébastien Bourdais in 2004.

There was a feeling this championship was always bound to happen for Newgarden. It was a matter if a desperate fan base hoping this time IndyCar had found its Messiah could bare a possible rough first season at Team Penske. The good news is he lived up to the hype. Whether Newgarden ushers in a new flock of followers remains to be seen but the answer is no he won't. Newgarden could win all 17 races this year and it would still be a footnote in today's American sports landscape. Hell, he could win all 17 races and still not change the minds at Haas F1.

While he hosts the #1 on the front of his car for this season, Newgarden is anything but Penske's #1 driver. His two teammates aren't going to lie down. They both want the #1 back and Newgarden made it known he isn't afraid to bump elbows with his teammates if that is what it takes to win. He won't be shut out in the win column but four victories on two road courses, a street circuit and a short oval is difficult to repeat. I think Newgarden wins another oval race and possibly a big oval race. Maybe even one of the two 500-mile races. One thing Newgarden was good at was being the top Penske finisher despite being the worst Penske qualifier. I think that could continue in 2018 but Newgarden should take a step forward in his qualifying performances this season.

Will Power - #12 Verizon Chevrolet
Another season started with a pole position but while a victory didn't appear to be in the cards in St. Petersburg Power positioned himself for a podium finish. Then his engine started misfiring and he retired. Early contact with Charlie Kimball sent him to the back at Long Beach and he finished a lap down. Right when it appeared Power would turn it around with a victory at Barber, a slowly deflating tire forced a late pit stop and all he could manage was a 14th place finish. The high downforce package was to Power's advantage in Phoenix and he finished second and started the month of May with a victory from pole position for his second Grand Prix of Indianapolis victory.

In the Indianapolis 500, Power made a great start but faded and would be caught in an accident in turn two. Saturday was dreadful in Detroit but the second race from Belle Isle saw Power on the third step of the podium. Once he got to the front at Texas Power never left the bottom and won what proved to be a frantic night. Another summer championship run appeared to be in the cards with finishes of fifth and fourth at Road America and Toronto respectively but rear suspension damage on lap one at Toronto tore a hole in that sail. A second at Mid-Ohio and a stunning victory at Pocono appeared to get Power back on track but a pole position was wasted in the wall before a green flag lap could be completed at Gateway. A sixth at Watkins Glen and a third to sweep the Sonoma podium was only good enough for fifth in the championship.

Numbers to Remember:
9: Power had qualified on one of the first three rows for the Indianapolis 500 nine consecutive years. Power is the only driver to make every Fast Nine session in Indianapolis 500 qualifying.

11: Number of lead lap finishes for Power each of the last three years.

13: Number of races running at the finish for Power each of the last three years.

First and foremost, Power cannot have the number of retirements and odd occurrences that went against him like he did in 2017. Some of them seem unlikely to happen again. What are the odds of losing an engine, getting hit on lap one and having a tire puncture while leading in the closing laps of a race three races in succession? That poor start set him back and while his summer was still impressive it wasn't enough to get him out of the hole, especially when one of his teammates kept winning, another kept finishing in the top five and Scott Dixon is still in the series.

Power will likely win the most pole positions this season and he will likely be in sole position of second all-time in pole positions before the start of summer as he is three behind A.J. Foyt's 53 pole positions. Power could also become the second driver all-time to win at least one race in 12 consecutive seasons. The only other driver to accomplish that is Scott Dixon, who has an active streak of 13 consecutive seasons with a victory. The Australian is going to put up a championship fight and if we learned anything from last season Power is going to have to be stellar if he wants the title.

Simon Pagenaud - #22 Menards/DXC Technology/PPG Chevrolet
The Frenchman entered 2017 defending a championship but his title defense started with a bit of adversity at the first race. Pagenaud failed to advance from the first round of qualifying and had to start 14th in the season opener. A fortunate caution after a pit stop cycled him to the lead but soon he would be dropped to second and had nothing to challenge Sébastien Bourdais. He missed the second round of qualifying for the second consecutive race at Long Beach and started 21st after a blocking penalty but he made another run to the front, cracking the top five and he finished third at Barber. His tenth career victory was his first career victory on an oval with a dominating drive at Phoenix.

A fourth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis made it five top five finishes from the first five races of the season and six consecutive races dating back to 2016. The Indianapolis 500 did not go well with a 14th-place finish and the first race at Belle Isle did not go his way either. He rebounded with three consecutive top five finishes before a seventh place finish at Iowa. Timing did not go his way at Toronto and a pole position was canceled out with a caution before his first pit stop but he fought to a fifth place finish. He picked up a pair of fourths at Mid-Ohio and Pocono and a nudge from his teammate dropped him to third at Gateway. The changing conditions threw off his rhythm at Watkins Glen but a roll of the dice in the form of an all out strategy got him another victory at Sonoma.

Numbers to Remember:
2,331: Laps completed by Pagenaud last year. He completed every lap, only the second driver in IndyCar history to complete every lap in a season.

20: Pagenaud became the 20th driver to have at least 13 top five finishes in a season.

35: Years since Team Penske last won three consecutive championships from 1981-1983.

As excited as people are for Josef Newgarden, I think Pagenaud is more likely to be remembered as one of the all-time greats. The man completed every lap in a season and lost the title. He finished in the top ten 15 times out of 17 races. It is hard to point a finger at what went wrong in his 2017 season because nothing went wrong. He had two poor results at Indianapolis and Belle Isle. Multiple champions have had results worse than that or a higher number of poor results than Pagenaud did only 2017 was the year when excellence wasn't enough.

Pagenaud doesn't put a wheel wrong. He has finished 20 consecutive races. Before he retired at Pocono in 2016 he had finished 23 consecutive races. He has finished 110 of 118 starts in his career. He has never had more than two retirements in a season. You can count on Pagenaud to bring the car home and if he repeats everything he did in 2017, and I mean finishes in the exact same position in all the races and that means finish ninth at Portland in place of his ninth at Watkins Glen, he will likely have his second championship in three seasons.

Do not be surprised if the 2018 season comes down to who is the most consistent between Pagenaud and Scott Dixon. It could be never-ending a staring contest.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 11th at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Grid Dogs

We now like in a world where Austin Dillon is a Daytona 500 winner. In other NASCAR news, it's timing and scoring needs to add a few more zeroes and maybe cut down on the number of green-white-checkered attempts. Drivers are either getting worse or can no longer see the bigger picture during a race. In non-NASCAR news, World Rally had some fun in the snow. A few Formula One cars have been unveiled. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Grid Dogs
Late-January was taken over with the news that Formula One decided to drop grid girls. Both ends of the debate fired off. Those against the decision blame political correction. Those for the decision celebrate the message it sends to women. It is hard to find middle ground on anything in 21st century. You not only have to pick a side but get all the way to the end of the spectrum and dangle your toes over the edge. Both side hang over insanity.

I am in the middle. Here is why.

I don't believe grid girls do anything to grow a series. Think about how little grid girls are shown on television. For a Formula One race, you see an isolate shot on a grid girl for all of what, 15 seconds?Then you don't see them for the hour and 40 minutes of the race and then see them for another 15 to 30 seconds when all grid girls line up, clap as the drivers walk to the podium and then three of them present the drivers with hats and microphones on the podium. If you believe anyone turned on a television, saw a beautiful woman on television for 15 seconds then stuck through a motorsports event for close to two hours just to see another few beautiful women for 15 more seconds and have that person then decide he or she is going to continue watching that series for the rest of eternity because of 30 seconds of beautiful women each week who are full of shit.

However, I think if a person, regardless of gender, is offered a chance to make money and know what it entails and chooses to do it then they should be free to do so. If a series or track or team wants to use grid girls, compensates those hired fairly and treats them with respect then fine. Some women have lost a source of income because grid girls will no longer be used at Formula One races and if all series follow suit than many will have to find new lines of work.

I understand why people are uneasy when they take a daughter to a race and the most notable women work there are grid girls but I do believe we should and I bet most of us are teaching our daughters that there is more than one option should she want to get into motorsports. It isn't a long list but Cara Adams, Leena Gade, Sarah Fisher, Monisha Kaltenborn, Andrea Muller, Simona de Silvestro, Christina Nielsen, Pippa Mann, Danica Patrick and Katherine Legge are some of the names that can be role models and hopefully these ten names leads to more women behind the wheel, under the hood and on top of pit stands making decisive calls to win races.

A series dropping grid girls will not decide whether I watch or not. It is not why I am there and I am sure the people who go for the grid girls, all 23 of those hyper-heterosexual males, will be missed but think of the absurdity of letting something auxiliary to an event dictate whether people watch or not. It has nothing to do with whether or not you are a fan or not. If baseball teams stopped doing dizzy bat races between the third and fourth innings I doubt fewer people would show up at the gate. If basketball teams stopped letting fans try to make a half court shot for a chance at a large sum of money few would notice. And to address the apples to apples comparison, if an NFL team decided it no longer wanted to have cheerleaders there would be pushback but if that team went 14-2 and made a run to the Super Bowl it would quickly be forgotten.

If there is one thing Formula One should do over is not made a grand announcement and acted like they were taking the baton and leading some kind of social movement. First off, no one really believes Formula One will be some kind of crusader with grid girls gone but no women close to being taken seriously for a race seat. Second, Formula One would have been better off by quietly phasing this out. Eventually people would notice but most would not realize and come to the conclusion that it must not have been that big of a deal if they had not noticed the change.

And any series using grid girls, talking to you Formula E, shouldn't act like it is hot shit. Big deal. You need more than that to be a successful series and grid girls can't make up from dull races.

If we need something on the grid that takes up space and people don't want women willingly doing it for a living and if people are against the idea of kids doing it then why not have grid dogs? Few people are against dogs and that would be more effective in drawing people to the series than women or children. Look at any one of the number of social media accounts dedicated to dogs. Imagine if a race had two-dozen grid dogs, sitting in front of cars or in the cockpit of cars and each dog wearing a shirt for the car that dog is stationed to hung around. Imagine how many people would be posting photos with the dogs on the grid in front of the cars. Imagine all the hits from people who would have no idea what IndyCar is if the series had grid dogs at St. Petersburg and one dog was in the cockpit behind the wheel or just being a good boy and lying in front of the car or sitting on some tires.

That might be the one way you might actually get people out to the races. Someone might see it in St. Petersburg and live in Phoenix and then see IndyCar will be in Phoenix the following month and decide to go. Hell, if I were running IndyCar I would allow people to bring their dogs to race. Have you seen how empty the grandstands are at Phoenix and some of these races? If 1,000 people brought dogs the stands would at least look a little more crowded. And there is nothing wrong with being dog friendly. People-friendly hasn't gotten IndyCar or any motorsports series anywhere but if these series become dog friendly then a series might just explode in terms more people attending and more people paying attention even if who wins the race is second fiddle.

Although, you could bring the dogs into victory lane and then people would care about the winner. If posing Scott Dixon or Alexander Rossi or Josef Newgarden or Simon Pagenaud with four dogs in victory lane gets them a larger following and makes them more of a household name than do it because it would be more effective than having four scantily clad women standing around them.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Austin Dillon but did you know...

Tyler Reddick won the NASCAR Grand National Series race. Johnny Sauter won the Truck race.

Thierry Neuville won Rally Sweden and took the championship lead in World Rally Championship.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Arlington.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR moves north to Atlanta for week two of the season.
World Superbike and World Supersport head to Phillip Island, which produced three races decided by paper-thin margins last year.
Supercross returns to Tampa Bay for the first time since 1999.

Friday, February 16, 2018

How to Prevent the Duels From Being Duds

If you had not heard, the Daytona 500 is this Sunday and last night the Daytona 500 qualifying races affectionately known as the duels were held. Unfortunately for NASCAR, the races that set the field for the most prestigious race in the series set the grid but didn't decide who made the race and who had to return to North Carolina heartbroken about a missed opportunity to run in the Daytona 500. NASCAR had 40 entries, the maximum number of cars allowed to run a NASCAR Cup race. Everyone was guaranteed a spot in the big race.

No one had the pressure of having to race in but to be fair with the charter system and 36 cars being locked in not many were going to face pressure. Pressure is for the poor. Even in NASCAR the poor is pitted against the poor and the fat cats are never in trouble. NASCAR is running out of poor though. It is getting the minimum number of poor to reach the maximum grid size but no more.

You can spin the depleted entry list any way you want but it is not good. If eight NHL teams disappeared over the course of four years no one would be saying, "Well, at least every team remaining is competitive." That is bullshit and not addressing the problem at hand. Teams are disappearing and that is never a good thing. It would be one thing if there had been 85 entries four years ago and now we are down to 75 entries. It is down but it is still plenty. NASCAR is at a point where it can't lose anymore. It will say it can because hey, at least there will be the 36 charter teams but we all know that does not show a truly healthy series.

I am not here to talk about grid sizes. I see where NASCAR stands at this time. My solutions for not just more cars but gargantuan entry lists are to go to either a GT3 formula or a GT4 formula and all of a sudden have teams in the United States who would never consider entering NASCAR now eligible and teams from Europe deciding to come to Daytona not in January for a 24-hour race but in February for a 500-mile oval race. Neither of those would happen but it is the best I got. My goal with this post is to make the duel races into something other than two duds.

Last night was a waste of time. Not that there is anything wrong with wasting time. We all do it and it can be argued all sports are a waste of time. If you chose to waste it on two races then good for you but if you didn't it is understandable. There was nothing in it. The winners got ten points and will start third on Sunday. The teams that tore up race car did it for nothing but starting somewhere between 31st and 40th. It is a loss of equipment for next to nothing. It is Daytona, who cares where you start?

NASCAR needs something to be interesting and less than two-dozen cars running single-file for most of an hour isn't keeping people tuned in. It should try new things because it really has nothing to lose and the Daytona 500 and these duel races should not be off limits from experimentation.

It doesn't appear the entry list is going to balloon back to numbers we saw even a decade ago. Next year, NASCAR might make sure that there is at least one car going home from each qualifying race but 42 entries is only a Band-Aid to say there was intrigue in this two races. With that in mind and with grid size apparently not meaning as much as it once did NASCAR needs to do two things to help improve these duel races.

1. No security blanket. No one is safe. It doesn't matter how many Fortune 500 companies are on your race car. It isn't going to save you and you could go home.

2. If NASCAR wants to promote rivalries and make heroes and villains than go all out and make it happen.

Here is what I would do.

The front row for the Daytona 500 would still be locked into the race but the winners of each qualifying race gets to choose a team that has to pack up all its equipment and go home regardless of where he or she finished or of what qualifying race he or she participated in.

It seems corny but does anyone have a better solution? No, no they don't. This would create drivers people would hate and create drivers that win sympathy points. It puts nice guys into a bind. No one seems to hate Ryan Blaney and a buddy of mine said this type of predicament where he decides the Daytona 500 fate of one team would create his first rival but this situation NASCAR needs. Not every driver can get away with a clean image and be a 100% fan favorite. There are no saints; only sinners and we all have some blood on our hands. Blaney would be no different. He would be faced with the task of deciding to kill the Daytona 500 dream for somebody. You don't think that driver is going to be pissed? You don't think a segment of the fan base is going to be pissed? You don't think there will be a segment of the fan base that is thrilled about a certain driver told to beat it? It may become something Blaney never escapes in his career. That might not be a bad thing.

You are probably thinking, well, there is too much money in NASCAR and Blaney wouldn't want to send a weekly competitor home. He would probably just pick a non-chartered team or a smaller chartered team that is in the bottom four charters. He might do that but wouldn't that make him and any driver look worse? Wouldn't Blaney and Chase Elliott look like two assholes for sending D.J. Kennington and David Gilliland home? Wouldn't fans call them cowers for not having the stones to tell Joey Logano to bounce or tell Brad Keselowski to take his whiny ass home?

Speaking of Keselowski, wouldn't you have loved to see him win and tell Kyle Busch to get out of Daytona Beach or vice versa? And the winner would do it immediately in victory lane. If you win the first race and the driver you bounce is scheduled to be in the second race then he or she is done and doesn't get a chance to race. The car should be rolled from the grid in disappointed and anger and that team should be left to stew on it for ten days until Atlanta.

Winning would be the only safety net. Drivers would have to push the limits. The drivers would have to go for it. They can't rely on being 4th and settle for starting in the top ten for the Daytona 500 because that driver could be told less than five minutes after getting out of the car to take a hike.

If it had been done this year, only 38 cars would have started the Daytona 500 but the level of interest it should generate should counterbalance two fewer cars in the race. For those who think it would be a bad thing to have 38 starters consider this, if you are saying there are 40 competitive cars that have a shot to win this race well if we have 40 competitive cars running in the Daytona 500 then we have 38 competitive cars in the Daytona 500 and it wouldn't be that much of a loss, would it?

This could become something that goes throughout the NASCAR season. Imagine it be a weekly thing with drivers holding vendettas over one another. I am not sure you could do 150-mile heat races but perhaps on Friday night you have qualifying and then two 50-mile heat races with two drivers getting booted. People would watch. It would give people a reason to watch. It would have to be regulated. You couldn't have the same driver get booted each week. Drivers would have to get at least a one-week immunity after being bounced and perhaps there should be a limit of six or seven times being bounced. There would also have to be a limit when the Chase starts. It would be fun for the first 26 races and then once you get into the final ten races you have the race weekend play out as it does now.

It will never happen. NASCAR doesn't want to step on toes even if it could be for the greater good of the series.

2018 IndyCar Team Preview: Harding Racing

The eighth IndyCar team preview looks at another new team and another new full-time team at that. Harding Racing rose out of nothing at the start of 2017. Little did we know it would become a team that grabbed our attention 66.6667% of the time it competed. In year two, the team has added a notable name from the IndyCar paddock that gives it a nostalgic 1990s feel that IRL lovers can support.

2017 Harding Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 5th (Texas, Gabby Chaves)
Poles: 0
Best Starting Position: 8th (Pocono, Gabby Chaves)
Final Championship Position: 23rd (Gabby Chaves).

2018 Drivers:

Gabby Chaves - #88 Harding Racing Chevrolet
The Colombian returned for his third year of IndyCar action but for the second consecutive season the 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year was in a part-time ride. Chaves and Harding Racing united and entered the Indianapolis 500 in April with a Chevrolet aero kit and engine. The team started slow, completing only six laps on the first day and being 32nd out 32 cars but jumped up to third on day two behind Will Power and Hélio Castroneves. The team did not take to the track on what was a windy Wednesday and dropped back down to 30th on Thursday. Chaves improved one position on Fast Friday and ended up topping the pre-qualifying session on Saturday. He ended up 26th at the end of the first qualifying day and moved up to 25th in the Sunday session that set the grid.

In the race, Chaves remained on the lead lap after the first round of pit stops and was in 25th when the red flag came out for Scott Dixon's accident. At the halfway point, he was up to 23rd. He was the final car on the lead lap when the caution came out for Buddy Lazier's accident at lap 122. Chaves set his fastest lap on lap 151 and had gotten up to 17th at that time. He would improve four positions in 16 laps but after making two pit stops under the caution for Charlie Kimball's engine failure and he restarted 22nd, the final car on the lead lap. When Fernando Alonso's engine expired with 21 laps to go Chaves sat it 20th. However, despite only a quarter of a lap of the next nine laps being under green flag conditions, Chaves found himself up to 12th with 11 laps to go. With nine laps to go, he moved up to 11th go after J.R. Hildebrand had to serve a drive-through for jumping the restart and he passed Ed Carpenter with four laps to go for tenth. On the next lap, Chaves overtook Carlos Muñoz for ninth, finishing over seven-tenths ahead of his fellow countryman.

The team decided to run the other two big oval races at Texas and Pocono. Chaves started 20th out of 22 cars at Texas but he kept his nose clean and didn't have any tire issues. Survival earned him a fifth-place finish, the first top five finish of his IndyCar career. At Pocono, Chaves qualified eighth, his first ever top ten start in an IndyCar and the third-best Chevrolet on the grid behind Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. The magic could not be created for a third consecutive race as Chaves did not spend much time in the top ten but he completed all 500 miles and finished 15th.

Numbers to Remember:
2: Chaves had two top ten finishes in his career prior to last year (Ninth at Belle Isle II in 2015 and tenth at Texas in 2015).

12: Chaves' best starting position before he qualified eighth at Pocono was 12th at Milwaukee in 2015.

94.8: The lowest percentage of laps completed in a race for Gabby Chaves was 94.8% when he completed 237 out of 250 laps at Fontana in 2015. His only retirement in 26 starts was at Pocono in 2015 when his engine expired with three laps to go while running in the top five and after having led 31 laps.

Gabby Chaves is an underrated driver. He has yet to put a wheel wrong in his IndyCar career and how nobody scooped him up early is a shame. The kid brings the car home and he has shown flashes of pace. He hasn't been in the best situations. He was at a single-car team struggling to find funding with Bryan Herta Autosport and he was a mid-season replacement at Dale Coyne Racing during a season where the team didn't have the technical staff that it had in 2017 and now and was woefully behind on ovals.

Even Chaves' current predicament isn't the greatest. Harding Racing was a team that came from nothing at the start of January 2017 and five months later finished in the top ten of the Indianapolis 500. Granted, Chaves and company were helped by a handful of Honda engine failures, a Scott Dixon accident and a J.R. Hildebrand drive-through penalty. If half of those things don't happen Chaves would have finished outside the top fifteen but the team never looked out of place. It is going to be a difficult season for Chaves and Harding Racing. It is going to be the only full-time single-car team. Everyone is starting from page one with the universal aero kits but Harding Racing is still going to lag behind the likes of Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and even A.J. Foyt Racing because it is in its infancy.

Larry Curry runs Harding Racing and Brian Barnhart left IndyCar to be team president. Barnhart would not have left if this wasn't going to be a serious endeavor and I think Harding Racing could become a respectable team but 2017 was the honeymoon phase and now it is time to get to business. There are going to be bad days. There are going to be frustrating days. There are going to be days where the other teams will make Harding Racing look like it is working in slow motion on pit stops. Harding Racing is taking on the big boys. The team has yet to run a road or street course and the team is bound to be humbled.

It doesn't mean the team won't show signs of encouragement. This team will carry some confidence into the three tracks it has experienced and it should use the rest of 2018 as a learning process. If the team gets good results and pulls out a top ten on a road course then great but if all the team can do is complete every lap in a road course race and finish with the leader in its mirror as Chaves fights to finish on the lead lap then the team should not get down on itself. It should look at it as the team has gathered the maximum amount of information from that race and has more data to learn from as the year goes on.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 11th at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2018 IndyCar Team Preview: Andretti Autosport

The seventh IndyCar team preview takes a look at Andretti Autosport. For having a difficult time during the aero kit-era Andretti Autosport did put together a rather successful period, especially at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The team has won the last two editions of the famed 500-mile race and Michael Andretti could join Lou Moore and Roger Penske as the only team owners to win three consecutive Indianapolis 500s. The team has six Indianapolis 500 entries already confirmed but the team will be looking to succeed beyond the month of May.

2017 Andretti Autosport Review:
Wins: 2 (Indianapolis 500, Watkins Glen)
Poles: 3 (Belle Isle II, Watkins Glen, Pocono)
Final Championship Positions: 7th (Alexander Rossi), 8th (Tony Kanaan), 9th (Ryan Hunter-Reay), 12th (Marco Andretti), 29th (Fernando Alonso).

2018 Drivers:

Zach Veach - #26 Group One Thousand One Honda
After finishing fourth in the 2016 Indy Lights championship, Veach sat on the sidelines for most of 2017 but the Ohioan got a few breaks along the way. The first one unfortunately came due to a break in J.R. Hildebrand's wrist at Long Beach, which opened a seat at Barber Motorsports Park and Veach found himself making his IndyCar debut as a substitute. The limited track time saw Veach be a non-factor in the race, starting and finishing 19th but completing all 90 laps and finishing ahead of his teammate Spencer Pigot, who finished a lap down in 20th after a spin exiting turn five.

Veach would make his Indianapolis 500 debut the following month but he moved to A.J. Foyt Racing in the team's third entry. A practice accident kept him from making a qualifying attempt on the Saturday and he was the slowest qualifier on Sunday with a four-lap average at 221.081 MPH. Veach had a typical race for the car starting in the middle of the 11th row and his race ended due to a mechanical failure after 155 laps.

Numbers to Remember:
6: Victories in Indy Lights at six different tracks (St. Petersburg, Barber, Milwaukee, Road America, Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca).

22.5: Average finish in two IndyCar starts (19th at Barber, 26th at the Indianapolis 500).

66.667: Percentage of seasons with top five championship finishes in six Road to Indy seasons.

Veach has never been a driver that has stood out in his Road to Indy career. Never once has he been the sexy name. He has been overlooked at every level of the ladder system whether it be by Sage Karam, Jack Hawksworth, Gabby Chaves, Carlos Muñoz, Matthew Brabham, Ed Jones or Santiago Urrutia. He had a respectable career on his way up the ladder and he only seemed to improve every year he was behind the wheel. He knows most of the track and he shouldn't be caught off guard.

It is hard to see the long-term trajectory of Veach's IndyCar career. I don't see him stepping right into IndyCar and being a top ten driver even with Andretti Autosport. There are three full-time rookies and Veach is the most experienced of the three. He seems like the favorite to win Rookie of the Year over Matheus Leist and Robert Wickens but Leist looked good at the Phoenix test. I think a successful season for Veach, aside from winning Rookie of the Year, would be to get a top five or two and about six top ten finishes and maybe he could have a race where he is the second-best Andretti car on the grid and running with the likes of Hunter-Reay and Rossi. The good news for Veach is he has something most young drivers don't when entering IndyCar: A committed sponsor and a three-year contract. He will get to feel growing pains in 2018 and know there will be a tomorrow.

Alexander Rossi - #27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda
The 2016 IndyCar Rookie of the Year entered hoping to prove his 2016 Indianapolis 500 victory was not a fluke result. The results did not come off the crack of the bat. He had another ho-hum day at St. Petersburg and finished 11th but was running at the front and was in podium contention at Long Beach. The hopes of a podium in his home state ended with an engine failure. It seemed Barber would be three consecutive difficult races, as he qualified 18th, but he made a handful of moves and a strong race led to a fifth place finish. All the Hondas were off at Phoenix and he finished 15th but he entered the Indianapolis 500 portion of the calendar with an eighth place finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Rossi's return to the 2.5-mile oval saw him qualify third and spend most of the race at the front. He led 23 laps but fell from contention for the victory after a slow pit stop and he had to settle for a seventh place finish. He followed up with a pair of top ten finishes at Belle Isle but hit a snag the rest of June with an accident at Texas and a strong run on a three-stop strategy at Road America was ruined after contact with Tony Kanaan and tumbled down the order. His slide continued into Iowa where he finished 11th but results turned around with a second at Toronto. A pair of sixth place finishes was split by a third at Pocono. Rossi won his first career pole position at Watkins Glen and despite a slip in the wet and a funky fuel strategy, Rossi won in dominating fashion. The season did not end well as a mechanical issue took him out early at Sonoma.

Numbers to Remember:
0: Times Rossi has had consecutive top five finishes in his IndyCar career.

1: Rossi is responsible for the only road/street victory in IndyCar history for car #98, which came at Watkins Glen last year.

22: Consecutive victories for car #27 by non-American drivers. The last victory for car #27 by an American was Jim Guthrie at Phoenix on March 27, 1997.

At the Sonoma season finale, Rossi was everybody's sleeper for 2018 and expectations were high after a positive sophomore season. From what has been seen through the first two seasons, Rossi is a smart guy but a guy that always seems to be on. There hasn't been a race where Rossi has made a boneheaded mistake and before you bring up the pit lane incident at Pocono in 2015, go back and watch that frame-by-frame. There was more to that incident than Rossi being overeager leaving hit pit box.

Everyone knows how limited seat time is in the 21st century and the general feeling has been that a driver needs at least two seasons if not three to get a firm grasp of IndyCar. If Rossi can finish 11th and seventh in the championship in what can be viewed as learning years than what can he do in year three? If there is one thing against Rossi improving his championship position for a third consecutive season it is the new universal aero kit. The team is behind, as it did not test the car in autumn 2017, and it might take a few races for Rossi and everyone to get a hold of it. However, the Andretti cars looked strong at the Phoenix test.

Despite the uncertainty over the universal aero kit, I think Rossi can have a positive season. He could win two or three races and win on both ovals and the road/street courses. I think he can crack the top five and easily be the top finishing Andretti Autosport driver.

Ryan Hunter-Reay - #28 DHL Honda
The American started the season with a promising fourth place finish after a drag race to the line with teammate Takuma Sato at St. Petersburg, earning him the best result within the team. He started third at Long Beach and quickly found himself in the lead during the pit cycle ahead of the likes of Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe. It was Hunter-Reay's race to lose and Hinchcliffe jumped him during the pit cycle but he was challenging the Canadian until his car broke down while in second. At Barber, Hunter-Reay lost a top ten finish in the closing laps to Mikhail Aleshin. Another mechanical issue bit him at Phoenix but he recovered at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He started eighth but made a few moves, including on Hélio Castroneves, to get himself a third place finish.

Hunter-Reay led 28 laps from 10th on the grid in the Indianapolis 500 and spent a fair amount of the race in the top five until his engine blew up while being one of the toughest cars to beat in the race. Things did not get better at Belle Isle where he was stuck in the middle of the pack in both races. Texas was another tough night and right when it seemed the team figured something out, he was caught in the lap 152 accident that took out a third of the field. A broke front wing endplate cost him a top ten finish at Road America.

A strong third place finish got him off the snide at Iowa with top ten finishing following at Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Pocono. A brush with the wall cost him a top ten at Gateway but he responded with a third place finish at Watkins Glen. He closed the season with an eighth place finish at Sonoma.

Numbers to Remember:
6: Hunter-Reay's last six podium finishes have been third-place finish (St. Petersburg 2016, Belle Isle II 2016, Pocono 2016, Grand Prix of Indianapolis 2017, Iowa 2017, Watkins Glen 2017).

8: Finishes outside the top ten in the first ten races last season.

5,054: Days between Hunter-Reay's most recent oval pole position at Milwaukee in 2004 and the Phoenix qualifying session. That Milwaukee pole position is his only oval pole position.

It has been a rough two seasons for Hunter-Reay. In the aero kit-era, it seemed Hunter-Reay was always finishing strong after a difficult opening half to a season. The first two seasons it was Andretti Autosport being off with the Honda aero kit. Last season, Hunter-Reay had engines expire while in contention for victory at both Long Beach and Indianapolis. Over the last two seasons Hunter-Reay is two engine failures and an electrical glitch away from having three more victories to his name.

With more than two seasons since his most recent victory, there are two trains of thought: Hunter-Reay is either due or he is slipping. I felt last year Hunter-Reay had more results fall out of his grasp when he was in position for something good. He turned 37 years old in December and IndyCar had two other notable droughts with Hélio Castroneves, which stretched over three seasons before ending at Iowa last season, and Tony Kanaan, whose drought continues into 2018 and could reach four years if he does not break through this season. I am sure Hunter-Reay doesn't want another season without standing on the top step of the podium.

Hunter-Reay can win any of the ovals and we know Andretti Autosport can provide him the car. I think he can be competitive on road and street courses and I think there will be at least one road/street course race where he is in the top three the entire race. I think he gets that victory but he will finish in the back half of the top ten in the championship.

Marco Andretti - #98 U.S. Concrete/Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda
After struggling for most of the 2016 season, Andretti opened 2017 with a seventh place finish out of the gate at St. Petersburg. A tenth place starting position at Long Beach was squandered after his race ended due to an electrical issue early in the race. Another promising day at Barber was crushed before the race got started due to a gearbox issue and he started the race two laps down. Phoenix completed the hat trick of poor results, as he had nowhere to go when Mikhail Aleshin spun in turn one. He finished a lap down at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 16th.

He had a good day in the Indianapolis 500, where he started and finished eighth but had a pair of mediocre days at Belle Isle. Survival at Texas earned him a sixth place finish and he matched his total number of top ten finishes in 2016 within nine races in 2017. A stuck throttle cost him a lap in repairs and while he would lead seven laps at Iowa, he was never a factor and finished two laps down in 17th. He caught a break at Toronto but had a strong run to a fourth place finish. A 12th-place finish followed at Mid-Ohio and a roll of the dice on fuel at Pocono left him with only an 11th place finish. He had another tough short oval race at Gateway and a top ten finish fell out of his grasp at Watkins Glen before he finished a strong seventh at Sonoma.

Numbers to Remember:
4: Times a teammates has won the Indianapolis 500 (Dario Franchitti 2007, Ryan Hunter-Reay 2014, Alexander Rossi 2016, Takuma Sato 2017).

11.632: Average finish in the aero kit-era with two podium finishes and five top five finishes.

11.673: Average finish in the Dallara aero kit-era with five podium finishes and nine top five finishes.

I was surprised when I saw Andretti's average finish during the aero kit-era was better than his average finish from 2012-14, mostly because for the last three seasons Andretti seemed to be an afterthought. Honda teams struggled in general but he noticeably fell off after a few positive seasons. However, if there is one thing that we can take away from the numbers is while Andretti was not impressive from 2015-17, he was consistent. In 2016, Andretti completed 2,062 of a possible 2,070 laps, second-most that season behind only Charlie Kimball. He also had no retirements in 2016 and his average finish was 12.8 compared to an average starting position of 17.4. Last season, Andretti completed 15 of 17 races with his only retirements being things out of his control and his day was over at Barber before it evens started for, once again, something out of his control.

Andretti did well with the lower downforce Dallara aero kit and with a move away from topside downforce I expect Andretti to do better in 2018. The guy can win on any oval, or at least that what we think, and he has been a bit unfortunate not to be the Andretti driver out front coming down the stretch at the Indianapolis 500 for a second time. Outside of ovals, I want to see Andretti put together good weekends. I want to see him make the Fast Six in a road/street course qualifying session and then run the entire race in the top six. I want to see him carry over practice speed into qualifying and not go from third fastest to 18th on the grid.

He gets more attention than 95% of the grid and most of it is from people who take pleasure out of seeing him struggle. I think he will be clawing to get into the top ten of the championship but it will be a tough fight between six drivers for those final two spots on the first page of the championship results.

Besides the four full-time drivers, the two Indianapolis 500 one-offs will belong to Stefan Wilson and Carlos Muñoz. Wilson had a ride for last year's Indianapolis 500 before a call from McLaren led to Fernando Alonso's famous 500-attempt. He will be attempting to make his second Indianapolis 500 start after he made his debut in 2016. Wilson ran with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights in 2011 where he won two races and finished third in the championship. Muñoz spent 2017 with A.J. Foyt Racing where he picked up six top ten finishes and finished 16th in the championship. He made four Indianapolis 500 starts with Andretti Autosport from 2013 to 2016 and finished second, fourth, 20th and second in those four starts.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 11th at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Make NASCAR's Second Division a Road Course Series

Alex Bowman made you forget about... uh... what's his name... you know who I am talking about, by winning pole position for the Daytona 500. Brad Keselowski won the Clash so that's something. IndyCar tested at Phoenix and it feels like the series is going to get it wrong for a third consecutive year, there will be another less than stellar race at Phoenix and that will end IndyCar's brief return to the one-mile oval many clamored for. The Toyota Racing Series had a surprise champion considering he won only one race all season and had nine podium finishes and another driver won over a third of the races and stood on the podium 12 times out of a possible 15 podium finishes. In other news, the Supercross season could be turning into the slowest runaway ever seen. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Make NASCAR's Second Division a Road Course Series
Last week, I previewed the NASCAR Cup season and the Daytona 500 and this will partly be a preview of NASCAR's second division. Why would I spend the time previewing a series most have disgust for how it is run? Because I actually think it will be moderately exciting in 2018.

Because of the way the Chase works each driver gets two-dozen opportunities to get a win, just one, and a place in the battle for the championship. The format allows someone like Jeremy Clements to have a shot at the title even if he really doesn't have a prayer. Clements aside, the Grand National Series has plenty of drivers that can win a race and with restrictions on Cup drivers moonlighting becoming stricter I think there could be six drivers that make the Chase via victory. JR Motorsports have three drivers alone that could win a race in Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Tyler Reddick. Daniel Hemric ended 2017 strong, as did Cole Custer and I think both could win. Then you have Christopher Bell who is taking a step up after winning the Truck title and he won in the second division last year in his fifth career start. Austin Cindric is piecemealing a full season between Team Penske and Roush Fenway Racing. Ryan Truex replaces Blake Koch at Kaulig Racing. Ryan Reed could win a race at a restrictor plate track. Matt Tifft is there and there is still the outside chance someone like Clements, Michael Annett, Kaz Grala or Spencer Gallagher winning a race at an unlikely venue, like a road course.

That brings me to something on my mind back in August when this series once again held a pair of chaotic but enthralling races at Mid-Ohio and Road America. This series should step away from the grind of nearly three-dozen races from February to November and run a condensed season only of road course races. For starters, it would bring NASCAR to markets that do not have races. It would also increase the potential talent pool for NASCAR. All of a sudden a young driver from Europe or America who can't breakthrough single-seaters not only has sports cars to fall back on and with the right amount of funding could take a mid-pack team to the front.

Consider some of the results we have seen in recent years with road course ringers entering the races at Mid-Ohio and Road America and the teams these drivers were with: You had Jeremy Clements' victory at Road America. James Davison finished fourth at Mid-Ohio with next to no time in the car even if it was Joe Gibbs Racing. Andy Lally finished behind Davison driving for SS-Green Light Racing a year after he finished seventh driving for Mario Gosselin's team and he finished seventh for SS-Green Light at Road America in 2014. Kevin O'Connell finished third at Road America in 2014 driving for Rick Ware Racing.

The three road course races run in August by NASCAR second division have become something fans look forward to and in some ways it is what people want NASCAR to be, a place where the little teams with five full-time employees and a white-knuckled driver behind the wheel can beat the multi-million dollar operations with starched white shirts.

There are things I don't like about NASCAR road course races (the pace, the gamesmanship on the racetrack, the lack of a time limit) but these are races you have to tune in for because for three tracks being the same discipline you are likely going to get three different results. Watkins Glen has typically run as you would predict on paper because it is held with a Cup race and Cup guys run it but Mid-Ohio and Road America rarely produce the same race. Amazingly, this series has had at least three road course races in all but one season since 2007 and in that time only twice has a driver won multiple road course races with Kevin Harvick doing it in 2007 and A.J. Allmendinger doing it in 2013. Since road courses returned to NASCAR's second division in 2005, there have been 25 winners in 36 road course races. Five different countries were represented by those 25 drivers and of those 25 winners, 11 of them had their first career victory in the series come on a road course. The driver with the most road course victories in that time was Marcos Ambrose, who won five times.

Going to only road courses would mean cutting back on the schedule and it could be a case where less is more. Instead of having teams putting a half dozen drivers in one car to make a full season work, a schedule half the length could make it manageable for a one driver to find the funding to run a full season.

A road course-only series would not mean going away from running races on Cup weekends and it could allow for more ovals to use the roval configurations that do not get much use.

In my mind, the season would have begun this weekend at Daytona and it fact it would begin on Saturday night. If the Clash isn't going to be Saturday night then why not have the second division kick off the season with a night race on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona? Then the teams would get a month off before heading to another roval, Fontana in March. Another month off would follow before two consecutive weeks of racing and both away from Cup events. While the Cup series is at Bristol this series could run Saturday afternoon at Road Atlanta and eight days later, the day after NASCAR runs at Richmond, Virginia International Raceway could host a Sunday afternoon race.

The series could head to Austin in mid-May the day after Cup runs at Kansas on a Saturday night and the Sunday after the All-Star Race this series could be up at Mosport on Victoria Day Weekend and run a doubleheader with the NASCAR Pinty's Series. The next race would not be until June and it would be the first race on a Cup weekend since March with a race Saturday afternoon of the Pocono weekend. After two weeks off, the series would join Cup at Sonoma before reviving the Paul Revere 250 at Daytona on the Friday night before the 400-mile oval race.

Wouldn't it sound nice if two weeks later this series joined IMSA's GTLM and GTD divisions at Lime Rock Park for a doubleheader that featured a sports car race followed by a stock car race? After that we would get into the August schedule as it is already presented with Watkins Glen leading off followed by Mid-Ohio and Road America.

The final race of summer would be on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course the Saturday before the Cup race. The roval race at Charlotte would go on as planned for late September but the next race would not be until mid-October and Kansas would host the penultimate round of the season with another month off until the season finale on a Saturday at Homestead, capping off a 17-race season.

It would definitely be a shock to the system. There would be a lot of down time but the budgets would be slashed mightily. Majority of the season would be run with Cup races but it would allow the series to visit Road Atlanta, VIR, Austin, Mosport and Lime Rock Park, tracks that don't have NASCAR national touring series races as of now. The schedule would be close to evenly split with rovals outnumbering natural-terrain road courses nine to eight but it would allow NASCAR to still have these races pair with Cup events while going to some of the best tracks the United States has to offer.

Oh a man can dream and maybe in this time when it is harder to gardener interest from the masses and people are turning elsewhere maybe it is a dream, a crazy one at that to turn it around.

Champion From the Weekend

Robert Shwartzman clinched the Toyota Racing Series championship with finishes of second, fourth and second at Circuit Chris Amon.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Daytona and Robert Shwartzman but did you know...

Richard Verschoor won the first and third races of the Toyota Racing Series New Zealand Grand Prix from Circuit Chris Amon. Brendon Leitch won the second race of the weekend.

Jason Anderson won the Supercross race from San Diego, his second consecutive victory and third of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 60th Daytona 500 but before that two meaningless 150-mile grid setting races, a Truck race the Grand National Series race.
Supercross returns to Texas but will be in Arlington.
The World Rally Championship takes a dip in the snow at Rally Sweden.